Most Americans believe the kind of food they eat is more important for managing weight than the amount of food they eat, according to a new survey. In the survey, a surprising 78 percent of respondents said that eating certain types of food while avoiding others was more central to their weight management efforts than eating less food. The survey was commissioned by the American Institute for Cancer Research, a private cancer charity.
This finding troubles nutrition experts, who have long suspected that messages about “low-fat” eating may cause the public to lose sight of a more pressing concern: total calorie intake. They stressed that effective weight management strategies place equal focus on both the kind and amount of food consumed. They added, however, that there is an increasing American trend to ignore the issue of portion size.
Indeed, the survey suggests that Americans are seizing on ‘quick-fix’ strategies with little regard for how much food they actually consume. “People are eating more and wondering why they’re getting fatter, ” said Melanie Polk, M.M.Sc., R.D., Director of Nutrition Education at the Institute. “One big reason is that their focus is too narrow.”
Americans, she said, are concentrating too exclusively on cutting fat, or going on fad diets that restrict carbohydrates, sugar, or some other factor. Too often, such strategies fail to address the larger picture of total calories consumed, not to mention good nutrition.
Portion Size Linked to Weight Management
Almost 62 percent of those responding to the survey said they were currently above their ideal weight. Half of those who were above their ideal weight said they needed to lose six to 20 pounds, and another 13 percent said they needed to lose 21 to 30 pounds. Ten percent of those who said they were above their ideal weight reported being over by 50 pounds or more.
These numbers are in accordance with recent figures from the National Institutes of Health attesting that for the first time in history, the majority of Americans — an estimated 55 percent — are clinically overweight , while one in every four Americans is obese (severely overweight). This means that most Americans are now at increased risk for obesity-related diseases like cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease and osteoarthritis.
Anecdotal evidence from several sources illustrates the steady increase in U.S. portion sizes over the past few decades. Foreigners coming to this country express amazement at the amount of food served up in American homes and eateries. Foods adopted from foreign countries like croissants and bagels have grown to double or triple their original size, and the native muffin has ballooned from a standard ounce-and-half to as much as eight ounces today.
Meanwhile, fast food outlets feature gigantic “value meals” and “supersizes.” Even table-service restaurants have swapped 10-inch plates (once the industry standard) for 12-inch sizes.
USDA statistics show that American total daily caloric intake has risen from 1,854 kcal to 2,002 kcal over the last 20 years. That significant increase — 148 calories per day — theoretically works out to an extra 15 pounds every year. (Ironically, the same studies show that the average American has lowered the percentage of fat in his or her diet from 40 percent to 33 percent over the same amount of time.)
According to the survey, however, most Americans are unaware that portions they consume have increased in size. Six in ten (62 percent) of survey respondents said that the portions served in restaurants are the same size or smaller compared to 10 years ago. Eight in ten said the portions they eat at home are the same or smaller. Americans under 35 years of age were more likely to recognize that their food portions have grown compared to baby-boomers aged 35 to 54 and Americans 55 or older.